From 1997's "The Spanish Prisoner
" to 2000's "State and Main," David Mamet has confirmed his place as the most outstanding screenwriter working today. The dialogue he pens for each of his characters is so sharp, so biting, and so honest that it makes every minute of his pictures a joy to listen to. In any good actor's hands, the words flow from their mouth like a deep, fresh breath, or a sweet line of poetry.
"Heist," again written and directed by Mamet, is a disappointing misstep in his oeuvre. While there are traces of incendiary writing present, it does not impress nearly as often as his work usually does. The story marks a resemblance to last summer's "The Score
," another mediocre caper filled with multiple double crosses and a complex heist plan. Such a premise can be done well, but it requires more than just a constant stream of corkscrew twists in every scene to disguise its off-putting artificiality.
Following a successful bank robbery that, nonetheless, leaves his face recorded on the locked-up television monitors, veteran thief Jim Moore (Gene Hackman) wishes for nothing more than to break free from the criminal business and enjoy his life with his much younger wife, Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon). A wrench is thrown his way when Bergman (Danny DeVito), Jim's boss, demands not only a bigger chunk of their earnings, but also one final score that involves hijacking an airplane carrying gold bullion. Along with novice thief Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell), and longtime partners Bobby Blane (Delroy Lindo) and Don "Pinky" Pincus (Ricky Jay), the planning of Jim's last operation quickly gets underway, with an increased suspicion that some of his coworkers may not be what they seem.
"Heist" is not so much a fleshed-out cinematic experience as a shallow exercise in deceitful con games. All of the characters are a criminal in some shape or form, but who the really bad guys are changes so much throughout the second half that every sequence brings an added twist that surpasses being clever and moves to eventual tedium. The dialogue may be a step above the norm for this genre, but the particulars of the screenplay have not been fully thought-out. Such a basic flaw uncovers obvious desperation on Mamet's part to devise nonstop curves to a plot that is actually quite unoriginal.
The whole cast are game participants, but they are mere pawns yanked around at Mamet's convenience. Gene Hackman (2001's "Heartbreakers
") is getting a little long in the tooth for this kind of role, but maybe that was the point. His Jim Moore is a man grown weary by the life he has chosen to lead, but does have a pretty wife young enough to be his daughter. The 71-year-old Hackman exhibits an intensity rarely found in an actor of his age, and he ably fulfills the physical demands set upon him.
Rebecca Pidgeon (2000's "State and Main"), Mamet's real-life wife, is excellent as usual, although one never gets a strong sense of just who Fran is, or what her intentions are. She is the stock femme fatale who must look sultry, innocent, and dangerous, sometimes congruently. Mamet regular Ricky Jay (1999's "Magnolia
"), as Pinky, is a standout, possibly because his part is the only one even cursorily developed by the conclusion. The rest of the performers--Danny DeVito (2001's "What's the Worst That Could Happen
"), Delroy Lindo (2001's "The One
"), Patti LuPone (2001's "State and Main"), and Sam Rockwell (2000's "Charlie's Angels
")--do fine, albeit unextraordinary, work.
"Heist" is like a pretzel--it's got countless twists and turns, but devouring it doesn't add up to much in the end. The act of watching it is an ineffectual ordeal that feels oddly dated and tiresome. Mamet's talent for memorably brilliant dialogue is too good to have it wasted in a film so lacking in ambition.
©2001 by Dustin Putman